Many people imagine laboratories and white jackets when they hear the words scientific research, but students at this week’s Texas A&M Geosciences Camp got a more hands-on look.
The high school students participating in the camp have collected samples from Galveston Bay, met with officials from BP and took core samples from trees.
The purpose of the camp, nicknamed GeoX, is to let students— most of whom will be seniors in the fall — explore the majors included within Texas A&M’s College of Geosciences, including atmospheric sciences, geography, geology and geophysics, oceanography, environmental science, water management and hydrological science and geobusiness.
Geography professor Julie Loisel said she explains geosciences as “everything that has to do with the natural environment and the interaction with humans.”
Humans are influenced by the world around them, and they influence the environment as well, she said.
“We need to understand the natural environment itself, how it functions and how we can utilize it and what we can utilize [from] it,” she said. “Then, we also need to think about its value and how it matters in our lives, not just from a conservation perspective, but from all the services we can get also, from growing food, having healthy soil so we can actually grow food, clean air, clean water.”
The experience has given Ellie Tool, a rising senior from Waxahachie, an opportunity to explore science and geosciences in a way not offered by her high school.
“We have, like, biology and chemistry and all those things, but this is kind of another kind of science I haven’t gotten to experience,” she said, noting the camp allows her to explore those other avenues before deciding what she wants to major in college.
“It was really fun. I got to do a lot of things I haven’t done before, and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s really fun,” she said.
For Jacqueline Martinez, a rising senior from Laredo, she found her major — environmental geosciences — while attending GeoX.
“It sounds really interesting, and I hope I can bring back what I learn from this experience to my city and spread it around,” she said. “I just hope to pursue something now based on this camp.”
The camp began as a recruiting tool to allow high school students to explore geosciences, and Travis Burks, recruiting coordinator for the College of Geosciences, described it as the best way to “try on” the majors the college offers before the application process opens in July.
“We have some students who come in knowing they like STEM, not necessarily geosciences, but loving just the full STEM aspect and then come away with a passion for geosciences specifically,” he said. “It’s really a special experience that we get to witness throughout the week where their eyes get wider and wider and more open to the possibility of majoring in our college.”
While Grace Hansen from Kansas City, Kansas, has enjoyed the activities the camp has brought, she said, her favorite thing has been the “dynamic” conversations she has had with the fellow campers who bring their own experiences and backgrounds. One of her favorite things during the camp has been to listen to their questions.
“If we have a speaker or something, everyone has a different question, because they’re approaching things differently, and I just really like that idea of hearing everyone else’s questions because it allows you to then approach it in that way, which if you’re from somewhere like Kansas City, you might not approach it as someone from Texas,” she said.
With 60 students, the camp’s small, family feel is something reflected in the college itself, said Judy Nunez, director of recruitment for the college. The students grow close throughout the week and form connections that sometimes turn into becoming college roommates if they both choose to attend A&M.
As Loisel observed students successfully coring trees on the Triple JJJ Ranch in Somerville to collect samples, she said, her favorite thing is to watch the students’ reactions.
She enjoys the hands-on science because that is what it takes sometimes for students to fully grasp what some scientists do.
“We’re messy and we’re in the field and we touch everything, and it’s accessible,” she said, noting science is not confined to laboratories.
The tools the students were using to core trees, she said, are the same she uses in her own research, and the analysis is the same as professionals in the field.
“It’s really just to give them a sense and a real demonstration of what research is and what you can do in college,” she said.